Woman’s Self-Immolation Leaves Questions

The publisher of a small weekly newspaper said his wife fatally set herself on fire to protest their eviction from a high school where the couple had rented a home and established the newspaper’s offices.

Chea Song said he would sacrifice himself as well, if necessary, to achieve justice. “I still demand compensation from this land dispute, until I die,” he said.

Authorities charged that Chea Song had no right to the land, which is needed for the expansion of a university next to the school. And they said that Chea Song’s wife, Keo Sitha, killed herself over a wayward son, not over the land dispute.

Chea Song said he rented the building at the front of the Boeung Trabek High School grounds from the now-retired school director in 1989. He set up a workshop to build school equipment, and the school still owes him $2,000 for equipment he built, he said.

In 1993 he established the Samlein Pol Roat Khmer (Voice of the Khmer Citizen) offices in the building, and since last year he has rented out part of the house, he said. The house and offices border Monivong Boule­vard a short distance from the school’s gates.

Chea Song first received an eviction notice last year and filed a complaint with the municipal court demanding compensation. But the demand was ignored, and he received a second eviction notice earlier this month.

Then, on July 9, Keo Sitha poured oil on herself and lighted herself on fire in front of the house.

“I am very sad about my wife,” Chea Song said.

Speaking at the high school’s graduation ceremony earlier this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the University of Law and Eco­no­mic Science would be granted some of the high school land in or­der to expand, teachers said. The land includes the house and offices.

A municipal court official said Chea Song would have to move because he was merely a renter with no formal title to the land. The land is intended for school facilities, not for housing or offices, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A municipal police officer, also speaking on condition of anony­mity, said the offices do not fit with the character of the area. “When people go past the place, they see it’s a high school. Why are there people’s houses there?”

The police officer and court official both said Chea Song’s wife killed herself over her son, allegedly a gangster who had been repeatedly thrown in prison and was saddling the family with huge legal fees.

Chea Song acknowledged the problems with his wife’s son, who is the product of an earlier marriage. But he maintained his wife killed herself over the land dispute.

Chea Song said only Hun Sen could hear his plea now. “If Hun Sen ignores my case, I can’t get money.”

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